- Food & Drink
For a nation of island dwellers, the British are stubbornly averse to eating fish. In the kitchen, we keep our backs to the sea and our stomachs pointed firmly towards the fields and forests, where meat roams around in a collection of tantalising guises. Fish, all scales and slime, doesn’t get a look in.
I, being a true Britisher, follow this dietary diktat. Occasionally, a heavily-battered fillet may make it into my household, but in general my attitude is one of polite indifference. So when @EffBeeee asked if I wanted to go to the Fin and Flounder’s first supper club, I decided that this was my moment to embrace the piscine, and then eat it.
Fin and Flounder are fishmongers on East London’s shopping street du choix, Broadway Market. At the far end, clinging onto the skirts of the vintage clothing emporiums and ultra-casual cafés, is F Cooke’s Pie and Mash Shop. A well-scrubbed beacon of white tiles and malt vinegar, it was the host location for the supper club and a crowd of us trendy young things crammed in around the narrow marble tabletops.
Having wedged ourselves in and twisted open the caps on our bottles of wine (it’s BYO), we were invited to heave our bodies back out and help ourselves to the pre-amuse bouche of smoked mackerel pâté and potted shrimp lined up on the counter.
I spread a generous smear of pâté on a thick slab of toast and, after some subtle conferring with my tablemates, we half-inched a jar of the potted shrimp for our table. By way of justification, there were enough jars for every table to do this. It’s just that no one else did.
We’d made the right decision. The pâté was a nice fishy paste, but the shrimp were a sit-up-with-your-eyes-wide-open delight. Plump and meaty, they were gently spiced and creamily enhanced by the butter.
The actual amuse bouche was scallop ceviche: delicate slices of scallop flecked with coriander and chilli soaking in a pool of lime juice. A sweet and refreshing change of pace after the doorsteps of pâté and shrimp.
Next was a pre-starter of pickled mackerel with braised rhubarb. Two strips of iridescent fish came thoroughly gilded with rhubarb cooked in orange juice, crushed walnuts, slithers of shallot, frankly terrifyingly slices of carrot and leaves whose origin I’ve forgotten.
Lightly cured in red wine vinegar, the mackerel didn’t need these edible twists and twirls. Eating it was like swallowing the sea in great, glorious mouthfuls. The flesh was bright and cool and every bite whipped me back to the seaside of my childhood, wading into the fridge-cold waters, squinting my eyes shut against the spray.
If the mackerel had summoned up life on (and in) the ocean waves, then the starter of crab, Parmesan and samphire was like sinking your toes into the dark, wet sand of the shoreline.
Chunks of white crabmeat were piled on top of squeaky, saline samphire and doused in a creamy dressing made from the brown meat. It reeked of the soft, rotting underbelly of a pier, wrapped in seaweed and dripping with saltwater.
All of which is a good thing. It was an evocative plate of food that tasted totally of its origins. The only flaw was the samphire – there was too much of it. I think the original plan had been to do a salad of asparagus and samphire, which would’ve cut through the brine. On its own, the samphire was a little too salty.
The main course was beautiful. Fillets of roast Cornish whiting had me wondering why I didn’t eat more whiting. Although the béarnaise sauce may have helped win me over to whiting’s cause. They could’ve served deep-fried socks coated in that sauce and I’d have asked for seconds.
Triple-cooked chips were crisp and fluffy and a scoop of mushy peas thunked down on the edge of the plate rounded off the posh fish’n’chips look.
A surprise extra course of oysters with a shot of bloody mary were received with beaming delight. I don’t generally like bloody marys. It’s like drinking an alcoholic’s ketchup, but this version surprised me by being good. I could be converted to boozy ketchup yet.
The final course was gooseberry and apple crumble cooked in the tins F Cooke bakes their pies in. A neat concept somewhat hampered by the metal tins being excellent conductors of heat and therefore likely to take the skin off your fingers if tried to grip the tin’s edge as you scooped up the pudding.
The crumble itself was wonderful mix of tart and sweet and it came with a Chantilly cream so delicious that we ate it by the spoonful once the crumbles were finished.
I’d gorged on 7 courses and in a few hours I’d had my perceptions of some staples challenged – it was the first time I’d ever really enjoyed potted shrimp and bloody marys – and had been introduced to a new fish that I want to cook at home. All this food and inspiration for just £30.
The next supper club is a Mexican fish feast on the 21st July 2011 and tickets can be booked here.